Monday 21 August 2023

SNP conspiracy theories always blame the English


Scottish nationalism has a number of advantages. It can tap into feelings of Scottish patriotism. It can use familiar stories from Scottish history. It can give people who are not successful in life the idea that they only have to vote for Scottish independence to gain a better job or higher benefits. But Scottish nationalism in general and the SNP in particular has a fatal flaw that continually undermines it. It must always blame someone else for its own failure.

Success in life as well as politics depends on taking responsibility for your own actions. It requires us to be honest with ourselves about our strengths and our weaknesses. This is why you should never give a child a reason to fail. If you tell him that he is failing because of prejudice, he will embrace that reason and fail. If you tell him he is failing because of illness or disability he will not need to overcome his disadvantages because he will have an excuse for his failure.

Scottish nationalism is grounded in grievance. Everything is either England’s fault, Westminster’s fault or the British state’s fault. It’s never Scottish nationalism’s fault. It’s never Scotland’s or Holyrood’s failure to persuade enough Scots to vote for Scottish independence. For this reason, it’s never honest with itself about its success and its failure.

This has become particularly clear in the past week with peripheral and aging Scottish nationalists beginning to realise that its unlikely that they will see Scottish independence in their lifetime descending into paranoia.

But it goes much further back. Conspiracy theories, grievance and blaming someone else for our own faults has become a key part of the Scottish nationalist character.

The Act of Union 1707

This is presented by Scottish nationalism as a betrayal. Such a parcel of rogues bought and sold Scotland for English gold. But in a European context this is nonsense. The merger of kingdoms was the norm. Kingdoms that merged usually merged politically too. James VI could have refused the English crown, but once he accepted it there was always a good chance that Scottish independence and English independence would be lost. It wasn’t inevitable, but why blame the English? They weren’t that keen on having a Scottish King and many weren’t that keen on merging with Scotland either.

The Clearances

These took place because of developments in agriculture. Just as in other parts of Britain agricultural labourers were displaced by enclosure and the development of technologies like the seed drill that made many workers unnecessary. Sometimes it was Scottish landowners who cleared out their tenants, sometimes it wasn’t. But the displacement of people and their moving to colonies was a European wide phenomenon. More people in England were displaced than in Scotland, moving from small villages to cities to work in factories. This was called industrialisation. But there were no “Clearances” in England, and no one is blamed for it today.

Decline of Gaelic

In the Iron Age large parts of Europe spoke Celtic languages including all of Britain and France and parts of Spain and Germany. But whether by ill fortune or some inherent character of Celtic languages, the only place where they are widely spoken today is in Wales. Mass migration from Angles, Saxons, Romans and Normans supplanted Celtic speakers. In Scotland Gaelic was undermined for economic and religious reasons and by the spread of education. But it was not English people who did this, it was Scots who saw Gaelic as an impediment to Scottish unity and the dominance of Church of Scotland Presbyterianism. It became advantageous for Gaelic speakers to learn English and so monolingual Gaelic speakers became rarer, which accelerated decline. By the twentieth century Gaelic speaking parents were choosing not to pass on the language. Whose fault was that?

Tanks in George Square

In 1919 there was fear all over Europe of Bolshevism. There were major post First World War conflicts between Greece and Turkey, the Soviet Union and Poland which involved the deaths of large numbers of people. Spanish flu killed 21 million people between 1919 and 1920. The Battle of George Square led to the death of one policeman some months later due to injuries. There were some tanks, but they were deployed on the orders of the Sherriff of Lanarkshire and they arrived after the riot was over.

The McCrone Report

It was reported to the Government in 1974 that

It must be concluded therefore that revenues and large balance of payments gains would indeed accrue to a Scottish Government in the event of independence provided that steps were taken either by carried interest or by taxation to secure the Government 'take'. Undoubtedly this would banish any anxieties the Government might have had about its budgetary position or its balance of payments.

But so what? Natural resources belong to nation states. It might equally well have been concluded that if the part of Norway that juts into the North Sea was independent it would have advantages. But that part of Norway does not own natural resources. They belong to the whole of Norway. The “It’s Scotland’s oil” argument only works if Scotland is an independent nation state, but you cannot use being an independent nation state to justify becoming one. That is obviously circular reasoning. The truth is that in 1974 there was little prospect of Scotland becoming independent. The SNP won 30% of the vote in 1974, but this had declined to 17% by 1979. Scotland was not independent when McCrone wrote his report and nor did we want to be. The report was not secret. If it had been it would not have been discovered by a freedom of information request in 2005.

Willie McRae

This SNP politician died in somewhat mysterious circumstances in 1985. Some Scottish nationalists allege that he was under MI5 surveillance and was murdered for his views. There are some oddities and unexplained issues, but why would the British state murder Willie McRae? The SNP in the 1983 General Election had 11.8% of the vote down 5.5%. It was no threat to anyone. McRae’s brother “Fergus McRae, a retired doctor, dismisses the conspiracy theories and urges acceptance of the official story.”

Secret oil fields

The problem with North Sea oil in 2014 was that it was approaching the stage where it would be unviable economically and environmentally. There may have been fields that oil companies thought worth exploring. But these weren’t secret. How do you hide the North Sea? It’s just that the companies didn’t know if they would be viable nor did anyone else. It was instead the SNP that was wildly overoptimistic about the prospects of oil in its 2013 White Paper. It turned out that oil was worth far less than Salmond predicted. But there is no conspiracy theory about that.

Writing in ink

The idea that ballot boxes full of Yes votes would be rubbed out overnight by people at the count only to be replaced with crosses in the No box is perhaps the weirdest of all the SNP conspiracy theories. We knew the result the next day. People at the counts would have had a variety of views. Some would have voted Yes. Do you really suppose that no one would have noticed this rubbing out?

The Vow

It is widely held amongst Scottish nationalists that “The Vow” cost them the referendum and that the promises made in “The Vow” were not fulfilled. I doubt that it made that much difference either way. But politicians are allowed to make last minute promises. Voters can be swayed by them or not. Anyway, the promise of “The Vow” was that the Scottish Parliament would gain new powers. The Smith Commission was set up soon afterwards and the Scottish Parliament did gain new powers. Later it gained still more.

The material change of circumstances

The SNP claimed that it had the right to a second referendum because of Brexit. But there was nothing whatsoever in either the Edinburgh Agreement or during the 2014 referendum campaign about requiring a second vote if there were a material change of circumstances. Instead, both Salmond and Sturgeon emphasised that the 2014 vote was once in a lifetime opportunity. The SNP made up the concept of the material change of circumstances then claimed it was betrayed because others disagreed.

The colony

If Scotland is a colony who are the colonisers. The English, the Pakistanis or the Poles? Westminster can’t colonise Scotland. Westminster is a building and a district of London. So, who are the colonisers? If it’s no one, then Scotland can’t be a colony. If it’s the English, why isn’t it the Pakistanis or the Poles?


Suddenly we are hearing about MI5 when support for the SNP has fallen to 36%. But why would MI5 need to be involved when a simpler explanation for the fall in SNP support is the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, the scandal about SNP finances and the arrest of senior SNP figures on suspicion of criminal activity? To suppose that MI5 caused these senior SNP figures to behave as they did is to turn Scots into puppets pulled by English strings.

Scottish Civil Servants

We now have the accusation that Scottish civil servants can’t be trusted because they work for the British state. But these civil servants were responsible for the White Paper in 2014 and have been largely responsible for every Scottish Government briefing paper since. Are we to believe that Scottish nationalists think that civil servants deliberately produced a poor White Paper in 2013 and subsequent briefing papers that undermined the cause of Scottish independence? But if that were the case why did the SNP publish them? Instead, it has become clear that the only way to remain in the Scottish civil service is to agree with the SNP. The idea that a Pro UK person could have been Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff is preposterous.

As support for Scottish independence declines, we can expect these and other conspiracy theories to be used to blame not Scottish nationalism but always someone else for its failure to achieve Scottish independence. That someone else is always the English. Another word like Westminster may be used, but the meaning is the same.

But it wasn’t someone else’s fault. It was your fault. When you had a referendum in 2014 you failed by 10% to convince Scots to vote for independence. In the years since you have failed to increase support for Scottish independence at all let alone increase it to the 60% level that might lead to a British Government giving you another go. Now support for the SNP is down to 36% because you mismanaged your party. Yet you are still mucking about with wild ideas about a de facto referendum or a unilateral declaration of independence. You don’t have the support for either.  

If SNP seats fall by half at the General Election next year it won’t be a generation, you will have to wait for your independence referendum it will be your lifetime. Conspire away and blame someone else if it makes you feel better, but it will be your fault and only your fault.